With all that 2020 continues to bring us, its easy to lose track of the normal things when they occur. For example, did you know that Arizona and Utah recently made revisions to their state rules to allow for major changes in the way law is practiced in those states? In the latest reminder that anything is possible in 2020, both states eased restrictions on both who can practice and who can profit from legal matters.
Each state appears to be addressing the same problems but in slightly different ways. Arizona, Utah and several other states have commissioned various studies to address the two biggest problems that most Americans face when facing a legal challenge:
- The access to quality legal advice
- The cost of quality legal advice
Both states recently passed various changes to their state’s regulations that will address these issues. Interestingly, Utah has taken the initial step of creating a “regulatory sandbox” for an initial two-year period. Over that time, software and service providers will have the opportunity to work with regulators to obtain provisional licenses to provide various types of legal services that had previously been forbidden for all but licensed attorneys. At the conclusion of the two-year pilot program, the Utah Supreme Court will again vote to continue, expand or end the program altogether.
Arizona, on the other hand, is taking a much more aggressive initial step into reforming their system.
Just before Labor Day Weekend, the Arizona Supreme Court amended the state’s rule 5.4 allowing for non-attorneys to have an economic interest in legal firms and allow for non-lawyer fee sharing. Amazingly exciting and huge news, right? I’d argue the second change they made may be more significant to the KCPA. Arizona also created a provision for “Legal Paraprofessionals”. The Legal Paraprofessional, which will be known as LPs, is designed to be akin to the nurse practitioner in the medical field. There will be educational and licensing requirements to obtain the LP title.
Proponents of the changes in Arizona argue that by allowing LPs to perform some of the commoditized legal processes such as basic estate planning and certain family law situations, more residents will gain access to quality, affordable legal services. Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Brutinel said in a statement, “The court’s goal is to improve access to justice and to encourage innovation in the delivery of legal services. The work of the task force adopted by the court will make possible for more people to access affordable legal services and for more individuals and families to get legal advice and help.”
As with any decision made in 2020, there are loud voices of dissent as well. The American Bar Association is expected to fight against this type of action tooth and nail. Although it is difficult to make a strong argument against providing greater access and lower prices for legal services, the ABA is expected to argue against the likelihood that smaller, more boutique law offices will be disproportionally harmed by this action. It’s not the LPs that have most people worried about the sustainability of those law firms, rather outside consulting firms building LP farms where their work would be largely commoditized and used to farm out lower paying insurance defense work that are often times the lifeblood of smaller firms.
No matter how this plays out, it would appear that the opportunities for paralegals are going to do nothing but expand. Have you considered if pursuing an LP would be the right thing for you should Kansas and/or Missouri make similar changes?
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